December Gifts to Gratitude

Oh December! As much as I love this month of holiday giving, shopping, baking, decorating, and constant chaos, I miss the simpleness of being with those I love. It’s been tough getting excited for Christmas, and I think it’s because of the commercialism, the stressfulness of finding gifts for people who may not need anything, but there is that sense of obligation to buy gifts because it is that time of year. Boy do I sound grumpy!

I reflected back to October when I shared my daily gratitude journal. That month made me realize what I have in my life and how much people give me every day.  I don’t mean gifts in the physical sense, but what they have given me from their heart. I’m talking about what they have taught me and how I am a better person because they are in my life. For December I am focusing on what people have given me and how grateful I am for that.

My gift to them? I want to let them know. So each day I am sending a letter to someone in my tribe with a word that describes them to me. So far I have come up with courage, determination, laughter, honorable, and enduring. Sitting down and thinking about what my friends and family bring to my life is the best gift I can receive.

If you’d like to join in with my December Gifts to Gratitude, here is what I’m doing.

First, I write a letter to that person. Yes, a written letter addressed and mailed to them! Personal mail is a pleasure to receive, especially when we are inundated with catalogs! I’m personalizing them with some fun stickers and the word I associate with that person. Then I write a letter to them explaining the gift they have given to me, what they mean to me, and why I am grateful to have them in my life.

Letter with the ornament I write the person’s name and word on.

Next, I write their name on an ornament that I purchased at Michael’s (which are half price right now). I write their name on one side, then their special word on the other. I want them to remember why they are special to me, and it can be displayed in their home if they like.

Finally, in order for me to keep perspective this month and remember why I am grateful, I am writing their name on my own ornaments and placing them on the tree in my library. This tree is topped by an angel that my son, Nick, made so it’s a special tree that also reminds me of the amazing gifts he has given him.


Another option is to cut out a tree or Menorah from paper or write in the people who have given the the greatest gifts of their time, their heart, and their love. Decorate in your tradition. Ornaments could be strung from lights with people’s names or photos. What an amazing visual that would be!

No matter what we believe or how we celebrate the holidays, it all comes down to sharing your love with others and letting them know how much you care every day of the year. That is the greatest gift and makes me grateful.

Thank You for Your Service

home of the free

When I was in college, I applied to join ROTC to help pay for my tuition. I didn’t really think about my commitment or what I might be called to do. I was in very good shape, loved a challenge, and was in major debt. As it turned out, I developed health issues about the same time, so wasn’t accepted.

I have often wondered how my life would have been different had I joined the military. Then I wonder if I would have had what it took to defend my country. I think of it like defending my children and family no matter what the risk. For someone in the military, it’s like everyone in the United States is a part of their family, and they would give their life to defend them. So many do, and I am grateful for everyone who has served in the military to keep me and my family safe.

I worry about how soldiers survive their experiences in war. How the trauma of what they are called to do permanently affects them. How it changes them and their families. According to the United States Department of Veteran Affairs, every 65 minutes a veteran commits suicide. I can’t begin to understand what a soldier has gone through, but my heart breaks for everyone who is affected and for the lives taken too soon.

Our military deserves financial and emotional support so that their families are taken care of when they are overseas, and that when they come home from protecting their country, they receive the emotional support they need. Our military protects our way of life and should be honored, protected, and taken care of at home as they do for us.

So today especially on Veterans Day, I thank everyone who has ever been in the military, served in a war, died for our country, and has protected our way of life. I am free, because you are brave, strong, and courageous. I am proud to be an American.

De Tillio Gals–Gratitude Day 29

It has long been said that once you meet a De Tillio, you are never the same. When you are in a room with De Tillio women, you know there will be a lot of laughter, crazy antics, and outlandish conversation. My father and brother learned to go with the flow and be very flexible with four exuberant women in the house.


Today we got together to celebrate our fall birthdays, shop, and well…laugh. It doesn’t take much. And the funniest part is that no one else may understand what we are hysterically laughing about. It just happens, doesn’t stop, but can be quite contagious. We aren’t afraid to be the brunt of the joke, act ridiculously, or be plain old corny. See below.

sistersTechnically Stephanie (on the left) and I are the middle siblings, since Sal is the oldest, but I have always been considered the middling. It’s not easy having to balance the Stephanie’s sharp outbursts of comedic humor from the emotional volcano of Michele (on the right) when she passionately expresses her opinion or one of us has been wronged.

Having an older and younger sister has always meant that I had someone to look up to and take care of me and then someone I protected and babied. I am like the filling in the Oreo cookie. I can go it alone, but man it so much better all together!

I am grateful for the laughter, love, and silliness. Our family has been built on having a grand time no matter where we are or the circumstances. I love being a Cammarata, but I will always be a down home De Tillio gal!

Colleen–Gratitude Day 27

I am grateful that 17 years ago, Nick and Connor brought Colleen and me together. Our boys met on the bus and lived right around the corner from each other. In addition to playing together, Connor joined Nick in karate and our families bonded.


Colleen is a powerhouse of vitality, integrity, grit, and perseverance. Whatever she does, she does with intention and full-charged energy.

If you ever need someone in your corner and to cover your back, Colleen is the Charlie’s Angel of our tribe. She has always supported me in any crazy plan I come up with, loves with all her heart, and sees the good in others. She is one of the biggest supporters and volunteers behind Nick’s Fight to be Healed Foundation. When Nick was ill, Colleen took the initiative and started a fund knowing we would need financial support for his transplant. When we lost him, she came to the funeral home and helped us with all the arrangements. A sister of my heart, she has supported me in some of the hardest tasks in my life. We could not have done it without her. It takes a damn strong woman and friend to take on those tasks.

She stands true to what she believes in and is an inspiring warrior. She isn’t afraid to speak her truth and fight for others. For the past 10 months, Colleen has been battling her own fight against breast cancer. Colleen took this disease with a vengeance and intensity that she brings to every day of her life. She has shown that a positive attitude is one of the biggest healers.

Nick must have known I would need a tribe of amazing women to get me through life. Colleen is certainly one of them. For her 50th birthday, I wish her love, endless joy, and strength in her purpose.

Happy Birthday! Love you!


Sunflowers and Nick–Gratitude Day 26


I am grateful for sunflowers. Nine years ago I lost my boy. In my life, there has been no greater pain.

As sunflowers arrived at my door, I thought of Nick. Their upright and sturdy stems speak to strong bonds and loyalty. Nick was loyal to his family and friends. He stood for what he believed in, not worrying about any cost to himself. The strong bonds he held with people continue to this day, because his roots and values ran deep and he loved with all his heart.

1998 Fall3

The color of sunflowers are as vibrant as Nick’s smile.

Nick and Marisa at twins' bday

He always smiled. Oh yes, he had his moments, but sunshine and love lit through him. He brought laughter, joy, and had the ability to make others smile.


Pictures of Nick–always have a smile or smirk.


Sunflowers provide nourishment, hope for continuing life. Nick physically isn’t here, but his spirit, his strength, his determination feeds my soul when days like today are so hard. The work we do in his name provides hope and emotional nourishment for other children who face cancer.

As the sunflower blooms it turns toward the sun. It rises to each new day–faces the positive, conveys warmth, and happiness. That is how I remember Nick. Always positive, seeing the good, sharing his arm personality, and being such a happy boy.

I strive to be like him in these ways. When I miss him, I raise my face and my heart to the sun. I feel his warmth and energy. He’s always with me, and I’m grateful he chose me as his mom.

1998 xmas

For everyone who thinks of Nick and remembers him today, I hope your day is filled with love and sunflowers.


Catching the Moment–Gratitude Day 24

I am grateful to have boys who remind me to catch the moment and be in the present. Stephen continually reminds me to pay attention to what he is saying or what we are doing instead of trying to take photos or write down daily details. I can’t seem to help it. I have always been that way. In a way it’s a good thing. If your kids grew up with mine, there’s a great chance I have some awesome photos of your child.

It can be bad, because Stephen hates getting his photo taken. I may be at fault for that! I love capturing those moments, but it’s true they are never quite as pure or true as when they are happening. And when they are happening, my face is behind the camera. I miss the good stuff.

Take today. During a break in the rain, I took Zoey and Dakota out for a walk. I left my phone in the house (I know it’s a shocker!) and we strolled down the road. I was immediately in awe of the clouds. Some were laced along the sky while others were floating by like shreds of cotton balls. Flurries of birds flipped through the air. There were so many and they flew so erratically, they looked like black leaves just released from the trees.

And fall trees. They are my favorite. Deep red scarlet, burnt orange, buttery yellow, golden brown, bronze, and green hues. The brilliance reminds me of the beauty this world can hold. I was surrounded by it and knew it mattered. That moment, not the photo that I could have taken, but being in it right at that time and place.

You’ll notice there isn’t a photo for this post. It’s in my heart and my mind. I hope you take a moment to enjoy where you are right now.

By the way, in my dream the other night, Nick told me to put down my camera and take in the whole picture. Messages are all around and for that I am especially thankful.

Lazy Day Sundays–Gratitude Day 22

There was nothing lazy about today, but being home to get caught up feels likes downtime to me. When I’m running around all week, all I look forward to is one day to sleep in and do stuff around the house.

I slept until the dogs made themselves known by barking at whatever noises freaked them out. That was fine, since I had a whole list of items I wanted to finish. The usual–laundry, vacuum the piles of dog hair, use my dishwasher that finally got fixed (woo hoo!), clear the dining room table, food shop, bills, etc. See, not so lazy of a day.

It was such a beautiful day out that I had to take the time to enjoy it and walk the dogs. Lauren who lives next door and Addy who lives across the street love walking the dogs with me. Today they were playing together (they are 7) and asked to walk the dogs. So we took a stroll, they basically ran with the dogs and talked. Not stressing about what needs to be done and spending time with the kids on the street makes it a lazy and wonderful day.


After food shopping, I made an orzo soup that was perfect for a day of chilling and catching up. My husband’s lazy day consisted of playing soccer, then cleaning up the yard and gardens, and prepping for winter. The soup was just what we needed to slow down.

Now that the bills are paid and there’s still some money left over (another woo hoo!), I’m going to chill out and read.

The upcoming week may be plum crazy, but today was plain lazy, and I’m grateful for both.

Me!–Gratitude Day 19

Happy Birthday to me! The first step to spreading joy is to love and appreciate yourself.

Photo by Elizabeth Fox Photography

51 years ago today I was brought into this world as a preemie. Three weeks early at that time was a scary thought, and the priest was prepared to give me my last rights when I only weighed 3 lbs 14oz. My strong and amazingly positive father wouldn’t let him in the door. He literally held me in his big hand and willed me to live.

That I did. I was meant to be in the body I am in today. I was meant to learn all that I have and follow my path to make this world a better place. I have loved with all my heart. I have had my heart broken completely, but the spirit in me burns strong, because I know why I’m here.

I’m grateful for my inner strength, but also for my parents who showed me how to be strong, brave, and never give up. I’m grateful for my positive outlook, but also for everyone who holds me up when I get too tired to keep a smile on my face.

I’m incredibly grateful for the lessons my boys have taught me and continue to teach me every day. They are a huge part of my purpose, and my greatest joy is being able to give them life and having a husband who loves me unconditionally.

Photo by Elizabeth Fox Photography

I’m grateful for my silliness, my ability to laugh at myself, and to forgive. I am empowered by those who help me fulfill my life goals and my mission. I am humbled by those who give back in the midst of their own tragedies.

I am thankful for everyone who has supported me not only my entire life, but also during the last 9 years. I couldn’t do it alone and know that everyone in my life has been placed here as a part of a larger plan.

Thank you to everyone for wishing me a happy birthday and sharing my special day with me. For the next 50 years, I will be cruising on my Harley, sharing my love and laughter, and forging hope in a world that so desperately needs it!

Photo by Elizabeth Fox Photography

Super Cool Writer’s Group–Gratitude Day 18

Yes I know what you are saying, asking, pondering. Is she saying that this writer’s group is super cool or is the name really SCWG–Super Cool Writer’s Group? It would be both, hence the name. And no, I didn’t make it up. Our youngest member, MacKenzie, named it when she was 18!


But these aren’t all of them! We are an eclectic group from varying lifestyles, interests, and ages. Our common interest is creating the best writing possible. This group came together a couple years ago when I started teaching fiction writing classes at The Clifton Park-Halfmoon Public Library.

Many of us connected and wanted to motivate one another to write and finish our stories and novels. We now meet twice a month and, in addition to supporting one another in our writing, we have become friends.

I have never been with a more open minded and creative group of people, and it’s not because they love my classes or buy my books! We truly enjoy being around each other, and I think improve one another’s writing. I am incredibly grateful for this group of man and women who believe in that the written word can entertain, heal, inspire, make a difference in our lives.

Thank you all in the picture and those who couldn’t make it tonight for supporting over these last couple years in getting Shimmer’s Eggs ready for publication!